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How I use evernote to organize all non actionable data on the iPad

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Here is an article I wrote, it explains why and how I use evernote and manage everything on the iPad. I.e. how to manage project support and general reference with Evernote and iPad only.

It isn't really gtd specific, i.e. would be useful regardless of whether you do GTD or not because it focuses on how to organize non actionable data, how to use tags, sub-tags, mind maps and manage everything with Evernote and iPad or any other client because I don't really rely on any desktop specific features


Some quotes from the article

"When this is not enough...

... things get a lot more interesting when you need a little or a lot more structure than just flat lists."


The problem with sub-tags in Evernote is that they technically don't really exactly exist there."

I also reference jbenson2, BurgerNFries and Owyn posts to present different approaches to using tags and sub-tags in Evernote and explain what works and what doesn't and why.

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I've made a big update to this. The link in first post is still the same.

I edited some things and also added examples with pictures of how I'm actually using this in real life.

Examples demonstrate how I use multiple tags, sub-tags, mind maps to organize pretty much anything on iPad and it works either online or offline and syncs across all my other devices which makes the workflow cross platform.

It's a full GTD system on iPad... Managing actions and projects isn't a problem when you have Omnifocus, it's the non actionable data which is tricky to fully manage

At 35 of pages it is becoming more of a very small ebook I think. :)

Hope this helps. I wish I've read something like this in the past!

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Good work May.

Downloaded 2nd version. It's on my priority 1 reading list.


As a quoted forum user I should point out one thing. The example you quote is specific to that use case. It is optimized to make sense when I update notes for that use case and to make search results more readable. It is also stable for the foreseen future. The specific notes involved are currently 1265 out of 7568 in my database. A significant percentage, but, far from all.

I actually use almost all of the techniques you describe as needs arise.

e.g. I have a lot of software application reference notes. The tag "App_Evernote" is an instance of a set of prefixed tags which identify specific applications.


Notes can easily be coded/tagged for use with many use cases. My note titles however are frequently structured to support a primary use case (if applicable).

PPS: Comments based on first revision of your document. Will retract/revise as needed after reading the second version. :)

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@Owyn, thanks. I added your additional explanation as well.

I also added some things, i.e. a little more info about different approaches to tags and sub-tags, how I personally use note titles to organize some notes, more about mind mapping and brainstorming with evernote. It's a small update overall.

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  • Level 5*

Hey - just caught up with this thread after all the updates. Good summary - pleased to see something in detail from someone who understands and uses mind maps as well as the Big Green Elephant. Have Evernoted the PDF for future reference.

Matter of interest, have you ever tried / thought of Wikis for brainstorming and managing lots of mainly textual data? Seems to me that there are at least four "views" of information - GTD / Evernote / Mind Map / and Wiki.

The advantages of Wiki include

  • creating and linking to new blank pages seamlessly to bookmark information that needs to be researched / created / contributed. In a Wiki forinstance, "[ ]" around text immediately creates and links to a [new page] with that name. Makes it very easy and super quick to document an outline description and highlight where more data is required.
  • networking with others (Wikipedia boasts over 16M users and nearly 26M pages) - so you could create a book by specifying chapter headings and inviting almost an unlimited number of others to create the content. (In practice we're talking about a small number of colleagues, not the whole of Wikipedia.)

Don't mean to hijack this thread - just think it's interesting how we all work in different ways and pick up hints how things might be done better; but at the end of the day, whatever works...

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@gazumped, thanks!

This is an interesting point about wiki. First of all I personally have no experience with using wikis other than reading Wikipedia.

I think it's definitely a great tool for collaboration with lots of people but I don't think I really need it to manage my personal information. Those are my thoughts anyway. I like the way Wikipedia is structured and interlinked though.

When I was using PersonalBrain as my main system I looked at Wikipedia as an example and inspiration of how to organize general reference material even though I decided to keep my organizational structure a lot simpler.

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Without getting into too much detail (for a change) I like Wiki's - specifically Mediawiki, which is the serverside implementation of Wikipedia. It's certainly good for collaborations, big or small - I've heard of a foreign language textbook being written with it, each specialist chapter being farmed out to experts and researchers in a specific field, and swopped on completion to another team for validation. I've run several myself, including a personal Wiki that eventually was replaced in my affections by Big, Green - and a 'small' collaboration in a tech support contact centre where around 30 colleagues contributed technical fixes to a knowledge base used by 200+agents.

Once you get into it, the ease of adding data and links - and a very good built-in search engine - is a strong attractor; but the ability to index and categorise pages (similar to Notebooks and Tags) and the huge number of add-in apps lifts it even further. My personal favourite is the transclusion of pages - want to show a contact address in more than one page (note)? Then set the address up in one page, and use a special link in your child page(s) to allow the actual content of the linked page to show, rather than just the link. Pretty much like a JPG or PDF shows in a note, except there's a one-to-many linkage - one PDF, several notes to display it. If the address ever changes then, all the notes with that content will be updated with one change.

(I like to use the Allo allo* principle in databasing: "I shall say this only once.." so if information is out of its sell-by date, one change will update every user)

If anyone wants to dabble with Wikis - or any of several other useful server-side applications - I can recommend (but no connection, etc..) Bitnami.org who take the sweat out of setting up things that don't always play well with Windows in their own private sandbox.

/commercial break

/hijack thread. Again.

I'm not suggesting that Wikis are better than Big, Green - just highlighting that there are other techniques out there beside phrenology (!) that can be useful in handling information.

*One of those TV programmes where you really had to be there. And British.

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Yeah. Definitely agree about Wiki's strong support for collaborative writing. Specifically:

  • Edit revision history is created for each revision.
  • Section edits greatly reduce chance of conflicting edits.
  • There is only one instance of the Wiki database. This is a strength when collaborating.
  • Single but hierarchical namespace.
  • Comments can be assigned to a revision.
  • Support for Article Talk.
  • Rich body of practices and procedures relevant to article management.

Evernote at this time is a weak many:many collaboration tool.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Joshua Zerkel, thanks! Yeah, it explains more about how to technically organize all information and integrate evernote with any other tool and use it across multiple different platforms, it shows how evernote could be as flexible as you need to instead of just a flat list of notes only.

The actual idea behind my organization structure isn't really explained and I might write about it too but in short it's just organized according to GTD concepts so people familiar with GTD would get the idea.

SFisher, I updated the link. I didn't know that shared dropbox links expire over time... I'd have to host the file somewhere else eventually

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

May, thanks for a great PDF indeed - I have learnt lots of things from it, and also convinced me to move my GTD system from Evernote (I have revamped it three times now without feeling content) to OmniFocus which you recommended as well. Thanks for that!

I own the iPhone 4S and the iPad2 as well as a MacBook Air and was hoping to get your input on which mind mapping software to use on the computer. iThoughtsHD for iPad looks amazing and can import mostly everything - but what if you want to collaborate on a mind map with a friend/colleague and sync on all devices? I am currently trying out Mind Manager 9 for Mac which has its own iPad/iPhone apps and basic dropbox/mindjetserver syncing built in. Thoughts?

PS. I love the mind maps you have made in the PDF, they ooze organisational power! :-)

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iThoughtsHD for iPad looks amazing and can import mostly everything - but what if you want to collaborate on a mind map with a friend/colleague and sync on all devices? I am currently trying out Mind Manager 9 for Mac which has its own iPad/iPhone apps and basic dropbox/mindjetserver syncing built in. Thoughts?

Thanks, henkisdabro!

I think it would be possible to collaborate with a friend and use iThoughtsHD if you just use the same file in a shared dropbox folder, it would sync on all devices, there would be a problem if you you'd both edit the same file at the same time though - so it won't work for real time collaboration...

There should be some other apps for real time collaboration but I personally haven't looked into it

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  • 2 weeks later...
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Here is an article I wrote, it explains why and how I use evernote and manage everything on the iPad. I.e. how to manage project support and general reference with Evernote and iPad only.

May, thanks for sharing your PDF eBook. I think you have an excellent approach to organizing Evernote.

I appreciate all of the detail you provide.

My approach is very similar except that I don't use mind maps.

My only comment is that I don't see any need to limit yourself to using the iPad.

As we have discussed at length in other threads, I find the MacBook Air just as portable (except for the very long battery life) as the iPad yet much more poweful and easier to use for apps like Evernote and all of the typical productivity tools like MS Office, Acrobat, Image/Drawing tools, etc. Basically any tool that requires a significant amount of either KB or mouse use.

Although Evernote continues to make improvements with their EN iPad app, it still has a number of shortcomings as compared with EN Mac. Stacks/NB lists and Tag/SubTag lists are still not available in the hierarchical, tree-based, collapsible form. In particular SubTags are presented simply as flat Tags. I make big use of subtags to ease and simplify tag selection and display.

I think your system would work just as well, if not better, with a MBA.

But I know that you and GrumpyMonkey both really prefer the iPad, and that's good to know, especially for those who would really like to make the iPad work as their primary tool.

Thanks again for sharing.


P.S. I know they discourage cross posting, but this is such an important topic that you might want to post a short note with a link to this thread in one of the more widely read forums, like the General Discussion About Evernote .

I just now saw this thread, and it was very much by accident.

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Thanks, JM!

If you asked me in the past (a year or two ago) about pros and cons of Evernote in general and about using it on a tablet device like iPad in particular then I would've answered that it'd have a lot of limitations...

But at this point I have figured out a way to use Evernote on the iPad in a combination with other apps (mind mapping, task management, etc.) which actually gives me MORE power and speed compared to what I used to have on a laptop.

Even the desktop client has some limitations and I've found a way to avoid them and it works on any platform.

I haven't written about everything in the PDF and I actually recently improved my workflow a bit with the addition of index notes to manage tags and sub-tags with a non-hierarchical structure.

This approach gives actually more power compared to the standard Tag list on a desktop client. And when you add mind mapping on the iPad - it gets really awesome. I will write and demonstrate it in more detail eventually. But in short, there are no limitations whatsoever. I think it might surprise you how much power you can get with this.

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May, I accept that the iPad works for you.

Here are the deal breakers for me.

Limitations of iPad

  1. EN iPad is harder to use than EN Mac, especially for typing new Notes.
  2. The iPad doesn't support the edit of files in one app by another easily like you can on the Mac
  3. MS Office is not available on the iPad
    • I make extensive use of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook
    • While there are similar apps on the iPad, none work as well as MS Office on the MBA

[*]Evernote Web Clipper is not available on the iPad (there are some work-arounds, but none work nearly as easy and flexible as FireFox or Chrome clippers on the Mac

[*]No external KB

  • While you can buy a special case and external KB for the iPad, it does not work as well as the MBA KB and touchpad
  • Even with an external KB, you still have to touch the iPad screen for some operations

[*]While there are lots of specialized apps for the iPad, there are lots of Mac apps that do NOT run on the iPad

[*]iPad storage is limited to 64 GB. MBA supports up to 256 GB.

[*]MBA runs much faster than iPad

[*]The iPad supports only one small screen, and only one App displayed at a time

I initially bought the MBA-11 to replace the iPad for travel and meetings.

I have now upgraded to the MBA-13 which actually replaces 3 systems: Desktop, Laptop, Tablet

  • When I am home or at the office, I can connect my MBA-13 to two large 23-in external monitors
  • The MBA runs fast, and I have never had to wait on any of my apps.
  • However, it probably would not be a good system for heavy video editing.

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i'm not saying that the iPad is better than a laptop, both have their pros and cons but we all (or most people anyway) know about what you can do with a laptop while a lot of people underestimate the iPad.

A laptop is probably better when you are forced to use some standard corparate software like MS office and outlook...

For someone who has a lot of freedom in terms of software choices and work environments an iPad is a very viable alternative to a laptop for a lot of (if not most) things. It really depends on your personal needs/preferences - what is going to be the most appropriate device.

I like to use iPad for my brainstorming and information/task management overall... I find it to be more convenient than a laptop for this use case because the form factor and the interface allows me to just quickly grab it and input/review some stuff and put it away without being confined to a desk :)

With a laptop there's a little more drag and it's more cumbersome overall, touchpad is not as quick and natural compared to a touch screen, especially for mind mapping.

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Great job on the PDF quite long, duh you wrote it! :) but I will put it on my trusty iPad and give it a read. Thanks for taking the time to create such a good document. I also using your work arounds for clipping on the iPad and they work great.

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  • 1 month later...

Anybody got a good Mac desktop mind mapping app with an iOS version as well or the ability to import to/from iThoughts?

I actually rarely use mind mapping on a desktop now since I can **always** use iPad.

Ithoughtshd provides plenty of export options, it works with most major mind mapping programs. You don't even have to actually export and import anything, you can sync all mind maps in lots of different formats with Dropbox and then edit them in different apps on a desktop and the changes would sync to ithoughtshd on the iPad automatically.


I haven't tried Mythoughts but I have tried both xmind and freemind. They're both free so maybe check them out first and see if you find them sufficient?

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